After a couple of months of testing, I’ve determined Ecobee3 Lite is slightly better, especially for iPhone users.
Out of the box, both thermostats help reduce energy usage, but Ecobee has more room for savings and customizability because it’s compatible with the add-on temperature sensors.
Want to learn how I reached this conclusion? Read on to see the detailed breakdown of the ease of setup, user-friendliness, and money-saving that informed my overall impression.TL;DR? Skip to the conclusion
Ease of Setup
Installation: Nest Thermostat
Nest is the easiest smart thermostat to install because you don’t need to touch your HVAC system. (Check your system’s compatibility.)
The Nest needs power to operate, but it doesn’t require constant power because there are two AAA batteries installed. In most situations, the c-wire won’t be required for installation.
The installation shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes when you follow the step-by-step instructions in the Google Home app.
Installation: Ecobee3 Lite
Ecobee’s installation is smooth if you follow the steps in the Ecobee app. (Check your system’s compatibility.)
Ecobee requires the c-wire for constant power. If your house doesn’t have the c-wire, you’ll need to install the included Power Extender Kit.
The Power Extender Kit requires opening your HVAC system, then moving wires around to create an artificial c-wire. It’s safe, not overly difficult, and Ecobee provides a step-by-step tutorial. But if you don’t have the c-wire and aren’t comfortable installing the Power Extender Kit, Nest will make more sense.
Design: Nest Thermostat
Nest products typically have exceptional build quality. The iconic Nest Learning Thermostat has a glass display with smooth polycarbonate or steel sides. It’s heavy too.
The new Nest Thermostat comes in four different colors, but it’s made with cheap plastic materials.
The display turns off after a few seconds to preserve battery life, then needs motion to be reactivated. It’s hard to see even when the display is active because the screen is made with a shiny mirrored display.
Ecobee comes with a faceplate for free, while the Nest trim kit faceplate is an additional $15. Because of Nest’s small size, you may need the trim kit. My Nest wasn’t big enough to cover the holes left behind from my previous thermostat.
If you can get over the looks, you’re faced with a poor user experience.
The new Nest Thermostat uses Google’s Soli technology rather than better options like a touchscreen or spin dial.
The Soli sensor uses your finger’s movement to change the temperature and scroll the menu. A motion down decreases the temperature, while a slide up increases the temperature.
The menu system only provides basic options, which should be fine for most people.
Soli isn’t intuitive and it’s a bit glitchy. It feels like a cost-cutting strategy rather than an improvement in user experience.
The good news?
Once your Nest is optimized with a schedule and geofence, you shouldn’t have to touch it often.
Design: Ecobee3 Lite
Ecobee3 Lite has a black front display and looks techie. It always catches the eyes of my friends who come over for the first time.
The display has a big font for the inside temperature, along with a smaller outside temperature on the bottom and a clock on top. The inside temperature can be seen from far away.
When you get close to the thermostat the display lights up brighter, and the temperature appears. It has a touchscreen with an advanced menu system that mimics the phone app. The temperature can be changed with a swipe up or down.
App: Nest Thermostat
The temperature can be controlled anytime inside the Google Home app, whether you’re home or away. The Google Home app is easy to navigate and has more advanced menus and is more user-friendly than the physical thermostat.
I like the Google Home app. If you’re already a Google family, Nest will be awesome because you won’t need to download a new app. The thermostat will get placed along with your other smart devices.
Nest has three preset temperature options: Comfort for when you’re home, Eco when you’re away, and Sleep. You can create additional presets, but the three provided should be fine.
Once you pick the proper temperature for each preset, you’ll build a schedule by choosing the time you want each preset to come on. The presets can be scheduled in 15-minute increments rather than 30 minutes (like Ecobee) and they stay running until the next scheduled preset.
The Google Home app has an amazing energy dashboard that displays how long your system ran for each hour, then provides cumulative stats for the week and month. Eccobee has something similar on their web interface, but I admire the simplicity of Google’s dashboard.
App: Ecobee3 Lite
The Ecobee phone app has the same interface as the thermostat.
Ecobee’s scheduling is dead simple. It has three modes: Sleep, Home, and Away.
Just enter the time and which days you want each setting applied. Scheduling works in 30-minute increments.
There’s a Vacation Mode that lets you set the time of your departure and arrival back home.
Ecobee has an online portal where you can control your thermostat. Inside the portal, there’s a Home IQ feature that provides tons of data that isn’t in the phone app. You get runtime reports, community comparisons and home efficiency reports. There’s an interesting graph that displays the outside temperature, overlaid with the inside temperature, along with how long your HVAC system was running.
Ecobee is compatible with Alexa and Google, but Apple HomeKit compatibility sets it apart from Nest. If you’re an iPhone user, Ecobee is a must-have because you can access Ecobee with Siri, from the control center, or inside the Apple Home app.
Unfortunately, Ecobee’s servers seem to have some downtime, but it hasn’t happened in a few months. For years, I’d open the Ecobee app and couldn’t access my thermostat. Unusually, a force quit and relaunch would fix things.
Automation: Nest Thermostat
Summary: Nest is the best value smart thermostat for energy savings. It uses the presence sensor and your phone’s location to determine when you’re away to optimize the temperature.
Nest has an occupancy sensor inside the thermostat, but for a proper sense of when you’re home, it’ll need access to your phone’s location to set up a geofence. Then, when it sees no one is home, it’ll switch into Eco mode.
If your Nest is in a popular location in your house, the combination of the presence sensor on the thermostat and one geofenced phone should be enough for it to accurately predict occupancy.
But if your thermostat is stuck in a random halfway, all household members will probably need the Google Home app installed to get proper home and away detection.
Because it’s not compatible with IFTTT, SmartThings, Harmony, or HomeKit, you can’t create automations with these apps.
Nest Thermostat won’t learn your patterns and optimize the temperature, like its older sibling, the Nest Learning Thermostat. I’ve never been a huge fan of the learning feature because it’s not great for those with inconsistent schedules. If you have a consistent schedule, a manual schedule should work fine.
Automation: Ecobee3 Lite
Summary: Ecobee3 Lite is a bit dumber out of the box compared to Nest because it doesn’t have an occupancy sensor built-in, but with a geofence set up it’ll get the same results. The ability to add SmartSensors make Ecobee smarter and more customizable than Nest if you’re willing to spend a little more.
Ecobee has no way of knowing when you’re home or away, so it won’t change the temperature automatically when you leave home.
It’ll stick to the schedule you’ve provided, which is great if you have a consistent schedule. But if you leave home randomly and want to maximize savings, a geofence is essential.
Home and away automations can be set in the Ecobee app. The size of the radius can be customized to whatever size you want, unlike Nest. Once your phone leaves the radius, it can trigger Away mode, then trigger Home mode once you reenter the radius, which means your system will start up just before arriving home.
For Android users, each member of the household will need the Ecobee app on their phone for the system to properly determine when people are home.
For iPhone users, with a HomeKit hub, each member of your household will need Apple’s Home app, which is built into the iPhone. You can set the automation to run, “when the last person leaves home.”
Ecobee works with all major smart home platforms (Alexa, HomeKit, Google, SmartThings, Wink, Harmony, IFTTT, and Vera), leaving you with more automation options.
Ecobee has two features that set it apart from Nest.
Ecobee lets you edit the temperature swing. With Nest, the swing is stuck at one degree. In my house, I like a swing somewhere between 1.5 to 2 degrees. With a 2 point swing and the heat set to 65 degrees, the heat won’t turn on until the temperature hits 63 degrees.
I’m not an HVAC guy, but running equipment less frequently but for longer periods sounds more efficient, as long as you’re comfortable with a higher temperature variance. I like that my loud furnace turns on less often too. Can this save a little bit of money? Intuitively, I’d say yes, but I’m not smart to figure out how to properly test this.
You can take Ecobee to the next level with the purchase of a SmartSensor, which will monitor any room’s temperature and occupancy, then report back to the thermostat. Nest doesn’t stand a chance against an Ecobee system with SmartSensors.
With a SmartSensor, Away mode is activated after two consecutive hours of no motion detected, which means you can probably ignore geofencing with the purchase of a couple of sensors.
“Follow Me” takes the temperature from each sensor with occupancy detected and creates an average. Sensors without occupancy, won’t be counted against the average. Or you can manually choose which sensor should be used for Home, Away, and Sleep modes.
Here’s why I love it: my bedroom gets hot at night with the door shut compared to the rest of my house. For Sleep mode, my bedroom sensor is the only one that stays active, which keeps my bedroom at exactly 61 degrees during the night.
Smart Sensors aren’t necessary, but they’re great for maximizing savings and comfort. They’ll be great for big, old houses with varying temperatures, or if your thermostat is in a hallway where the temperature isn’t a priority.
It’s silly to buy an Ecobee without getting a sensor too.
Which is best for you?
Get Ecobee3 Lite if you're an iPhone user who wants to control your thermostat with Siri. With the purchase of a couple of SmartSensors, Ecobee3 Lite gets a lot smarter because the sensors help regulate temperature and monitor occupancy. Unfortunately, those without an existing c-wire will need to open the HVAC system to install the Power Extender Kit.Check Amazon’s Price
Get Nest Thermostat if you want the most affordable way to save money on energy costs. Between the scheduling and presence sensor, and your phone’s location, Nest should know when people are home and make the proper temperature adjustment. Unfortunately, Nest isn’t compatible with Siri and the design isn’t intuitive.Check Amazon’s Price
What about other options?
The Nest Learning Thermostat is usually about $100 more than Nest Thermostat. From a design perspective, it’s much better built. It also has a built-in learning feature that automatically adjusts your temperature based on your previous patterns. A lot of smart home nerds want more control and aren’t a fan of the learning feature, and I’m with them.
Ecobee SmartThermostat (Ecobee5) has an Alexa speaker built-in, but the speaker isn’t good enough for music and the chances are slim that you want a smart assistant in the location of your thermostat.
Although, Ecobee5 is what I use in my house (with Alexa disabled). Ecobee5 is a great option because it has a built-in occupancy sensor and comes with one SmartSensor, giving you two temperature sensors and two occupancy sensors.
Read my comparison: Ecobee SmartThermostat vs. Nest Learning Thermostat